How do you navigate relationships that were once significant – even all-important – but are no longer?
Do you let them go or hold on to what was?
It’s one question raised in Two Hearts, a new play, and pertinent to the women behind it: writer Laura Lethlean and directors Katie Cawthorne and Jessica Arthur, the three mainsprings of The Anchor, a Sydney-based independent theatre company.
They met and bonded while studying their respective Masters courses at NIDA and The Anchor seemed a logical creative next step.
“We did a very short play in 2015 in Canberra in an outdoor theatre, it was a very early version of this show,” explains Arthur, who is directing Two Hearts.
“We were all talking a lot about how to make decisions in your life and how you navigate memories, how you let go of things that have happened to you and how you go on with your life having passed through something that was life-changing. It’s a lot to do with relationships and how what happens between people should just be their own.”
The women’s focus wasn’t entirely intimate, Arthur adds. “We were also looking at what was happening politically, especially when it comes to politicians making decisions for people, like with the same sex marriage debate, for example. People’s lives are people’s lives and it should be kept at that.”
All of these conversations have worked their way into Two Hearts, an intimate drama featuring Eliza Scott, Damon Manns and Phoebe Grainer.
“A lot of people will recognise the relationship within it,” Arthur says. “Two people meet at a party and they have a nice night together. They speak really freely because maybe they’ll never see each other again … or maybe they will. The play follows their relationship as they get to know each other and you see them fall in love, basically. Then you watch them fall out of love and see what happens beyond that.”
There is a third person within the relationship, Arthur adds. “Someone who is constantly questioning and imposing themselves – not in a threatening way but just deeply curious about how this relationship works.
“I don’t know how much more I want to tell you. But I think it’s exciting for audiences because you come in and watch it for about 20 minutes thinking it is one thing and it slowly unravels and becomes something else. All of a sudden you become quite an active spectator in a way you might not necessarily expect.”
Doing the work
Arthur is returning to the independent space after a period spent with the Sydney Theatre Company, assisting on high profile projects including the The Harp in the South, and directing the premiere of Anna Barnes’ one-woman drama Lethal Indifference.
In between those productions she also directed the all-female soccer play The Wolves at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, a hit show being revived in Belvoir’s Upstairs season in 2019.
“I am definitely attracted to plays that explore an idea and I put myself in a situation where I have to do a large amount of research to understand everything,” says Arthur. “For Lethal Indifference I had to research family violence, all the stories and statistics and the idea of vicarious trauma. In 2015 when I did The Sugar Syndrome [Lucy Prebble’s play, presented by The Kings Collective], I looked into pedophilia and online chat rooms. Next year, with Mosquitoes [Lucy Kirkwood’s play, for STC again], I’ll be studying physics.
“I really enjoy something I can sink my teeth into in terms of research and dramaturgy because from there you can come up with a very clear concept but you can also open up worlds and ideas. I love a good story but I’m not interested in just telling a good story. It needs to be saying something.”
Originally from Melbourne, Arthur holds a Bachelor of Performing Arts from Monash University and a Masters in Theatre Directing from NIDA, class of 2014. “I spent a lot of that year figuring out what I liked and what kind of director I was – or if I even was a director,” Arthur says.
“It’s funny, you learn about yourself through what other people tell you about yourself. So a lot of people were like, oh wow, you really like post-dramatic stuff or you really like stuff where lines aren’t allocated to characters, or you really like stuff that is saying something. So I thought, yeah … that is what I’m drawn to.
“That’s why I did a Falk Richter play [RAUSCH] as my graduating production. I just love all his writing because it’s a mix of all the things I’m really interested in. I did an internship with him about two years later in Frankfurt, with [choreographer] Anouk Van Djik, which was amazing because I learned heaps, especially about bodies and movement.”
Straight out of NIDA, Arthur was asked to assist STC co-artistic director Andrew Upton in his production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (“I got to understand what happens in a mainstage rehearsal room, I learned so much”), and Kip Williams’ production of Lucy Kirkwood’s political drama Chimerica.
Arthur was named the STC’s Richard Wherrett Fellow in 2017.
Previous fellows include Imara Savage, Sarah Giles, Lee Lewis and Wayne Blair.
This year, Arthur has been an STC associate director, a role she continues in 2019. Working closely with Kip Williams on large-scale projects has been eye-opening, she says.
“I have learned a lot from watching the way Kip works with actors. He gives them the floor to play. I’ve always been a big fan of that and seeing it working and as a feasible way to direct is just great. It affirms a lot of things. You don’t have to tell actors what to do 24/7 because actors are highly creative individuals and will probably make better offers than you.”
Next year, Arthur will remount The Wolves at Belvoir in February, direct the Australian premiere of Mosquitoes for STC in the Drama Theatre in April and then Van Badham’s new play Banging Denmark, staged in the Studio at the Sydney Opera House in July.
Arthur says she enjoys working in the mainstage and independent scenes concurrently. “I love working in independent theatre because you are working with emerging artists,” she says. “Right now I particularly love working at the scale of Two Hearts because I have found three people who are phenomenal to play with and who I think will all very soon take off in some respect, whether it be in writing or acting or music, because they are all multi-talented.
And my focus has never been on doing the biggest shows with the most money behind them. It is always about the work and the people and what the work is saying.”
Two Hearts plays at KXT bAKEHOUSE in Kings Cross from October 19